Since gracing Journey's 1978 Infinity album with his powerful voice, Steve Perry has helped make some unusual marks on American pop. The six U.S. albums that Perry has recorded with Journey have sold more than a million copies each. A Gallup Poll named Journey the most popular group of 1983. Journey's Frontiers tour was attended by 1,924,000 people, who last year paid more than $27,000,000 to see their Bay Area heroes onstage. The Escape album alone spent seven weeks at #1 and sold over six million copies. Singer Perry, who now writes most of Journey's hits with keysman Jonathan Cain, has even become a cartoon video-image in an electronic game called "Escape".
The real question was whether Steve Perry was destined to become a mere video image in real life. He seemed, at 34, less a rhythm & blues-based rock singer than a chip in a corporate card game. By the time of last year's Frontiers, he admits, "I was tired of defending Journey." Rumors spread, citing ego conflicts among the bandsmen and hinting that Perry was about to walk out.
Perry decided to stay with Journey and to make a solo album on the side. "Journey is and will remain the mothership," he explains. "It'll go on and on." But last year Perry hooked up with some West Coast session men and writers to work up what he calls "some melodic contemporary songs." They included players who'd worked with stars as varied as Joe Tex (drummer Larrie Londin), Kim Carnes (keyboardist Bill Cuomo), and Jackson Browne (lead guitarist Waddy Wachtel).
The result, after three months of sessions, is the Columbia album Street Talk, which Perry paces with the hit single "Oh Sherrie." Though those lush-sounding Journey trademarks are clearly in evidence, Perry gets to do a few things that the pop-singles format of his regular band tends to exclude. The lyrics of "Captured By The Moment", for instance, pair the political assassinations of the '60s with the breakups or deaths of Perry's favorite musicians Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lennon. "Running Alone" is a glossy ballad. And on "Foolish Heart", Perry puts an instrumental-style twist into his vocal when he stretches the syllables of the title words into a line that sounds like something you'd hear from a trumpeter or a sax player.
Stephen Ray Perry is, of course, no trumpeter, but a drummer and guitarist who tried for years to break into rock music before finding Journey. He was born in Hanford, California on January 22, 1949, the son of big band singer Ray Perry. "My mom had a great voice, too," says Steve, "until they took her tonsils out".
Perry's parents split up when he was 8. A loner as a boy, Steve listened to the pop and R&B music of Chuck Berry and Sam Cooke and later, Marvin Gaye, Janis Joplin, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Cream and Hendrix. Perry's taste in performers has always shown an ironic, macabre aspect in that nearly every one of his idols has been shot, jailed, or faced a drug problem or some combination of those disasters while Perry takes meticulously good care of his voice and his health. He even shuns Journey's backstage hospitality area for fear of picking up any germs of endearment. Asked if he was a hypochondriac, Perry snapped: "Who wants to get sick and cancel a week of shows? There's a lot riding on my shoulders, being a singer."
Perry's boyhood interest in music was fueled when he received a drum kit from his bookkeeper mother the lady whose dark, Portuguese features Steve also inherited. After two years at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Perry took off for Fresno, then L.A., where he searched for the right rock group to drum or sing for. "When I was down and couldn't find work," he remembers. "I worked as second engineer at L.A.'s Crystal Studios. But I was spinning my wheels there." Then Steve found what seemed like the perfect band: it was called Alien.
When the bassist was killed in a car crash on the eve of a '77 signing to CBS Records, however, Perry nearly gave up rock & roll forever. Then a label executive informed Steve that Journey needed a singer; Gregg Rolie was stepping aside to concentrate on keyboards. A tape of Alien Project the band had been renamed to avoid litigation with the film company behind Alien and a phone call to Journey's manager Walter "Herbie" Herbert were all that was needed. As Herbert once put it: "I listened for fifteen seconds, turned the tape off and said, "Oh, shit. This is the guy.'" Journey went on to build itself into the most popular recording group in North America.
Although Perry doesn't plan to tour this summer as a soloist, he's likely to go on the road to promote his next album. Choosing songs and band members is still a long way off. All that, he says will be done after Journey completes its next LP. "I'll probably do some Journey tunes in the show," he admits. "I'd be a fool not to!"
Running Alone on a New Journey